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Tuesday, 07 July 2015

‘We must have trust and respect of community’ - Sellafield Ltd Stakeholders Relations director

WHEN a seasoned communicator like Rory O’Neill gives up a successful career in London to come to West Cumbria you know it’s a big-hitting job.

The new Sellafield Ltd Stakeholders Relations director relishes the task of what’s ahead of him and his dedicated team.

He says: “There is an important story to tell to all our stakeholders, not least the 10,000 people who work across our sites.

“We have a major educational challenge to meet as there are so many different views about Sellafield inside and outside the company.

“I will know we are successful when we are telling the Sellafield Story more and telling it better so it’s better understood and appreciated, and ultimately helping us to be more successful – in turn attracting investment and generating prosperity for our communities.”

But for a man who has worked across the industry in different parts of the country it has not taken long for him to recognise that West Cumbria presents different challenges, none more so than in its close relationships with local communities. It has been described as unique.

“Yes,” says Rory, “ having looked at other parts of the country where industries have a massive footprint – Rolls Royce at Derby for instance.... it just doesn’t compare to the longevity and the beneficial impact which we seen here in West Cumbria both inside and outside of Sellafield.

“On the site there’s an inter-generational bond, not just with the people who work here or in the business supply chain, but its their dads, grandparents, and now even great grandparents.

“The other day I came across a young lad who has just started work in legacy ponds and silos – his granddad helped build it. That just about tells you the story.”

Rory agreed it was a lot about pride – the pride that springs from generations of the same family working at, and for, Sellafield.

He pointed out: “We’ve been doing a lot of work around what we call ‘Journey to Excellence’ – helping people to understand what we need to do in order to become the workforce of choice.

“Today’s global market is an international market. We have visitors from all around the world coming to Sellafield to see what we do – Japan, the Middle East, Hungary, the Czech Republic, China – all to see what we do, these countries face the same challenges, the same problems.

“They want to figure out how we do it, which is again comforting but it tells us we’re an international marketplace.

“And Sellafield has to be on its game otherwise we’re not going to get those new missions. When I talk to members of the workforce about those new missions someone might say ‘it doesn’t matter to me what’s going to be happening in 20 years time..... but it matters to my kids.’ Which again tells it all.”

Just how important is it for Sellafield and the nuclear industry here to have this special community relationship?

“It is fundamental. We call it the licence to operate which means we must have the trust, the respect and (almost really) the authority of the local community in order to continue what we do.

“It’s a major part of what I do around managing Stakeholder Relations – communicating with those stakeholders about what it is we do so we can maintain that licence to operate.

“It is almost unique.”

How high are community expectations? “Extraordinarily high but we work hard to meet them.

“Look at some of the money that comes out of Sellafield and the industry and which is invested in the local community.

“For some I accept there will never be enough. Therefore part of the stakeholder relations role is helping people understand the impact of all the various stuff going on, particularly through Britain’s Energy Coast and the various projects (such as Albion Square, Whitehaven Harbour, Rosehill, the Construction Skills Centre).

“All told an awful lot of nuclear money is being invested in this county. We take a lot of pride in this.”

How key is working in partnership with other bodies?

Rory says: “Very important – there’s no other way to do it. It has to be done as a partnership.

“What struck me attending the political party conferences last year, it really resonated among parliamentarians and councillors right around the country – a real partnership of industry and local government driving forward together on a shared vision.”

A topical example is Whitehaven’s Beacon facility under threat from public spending cuts.

Rory says: “The Beacon is a fabulous asset. It potentially offers Sellafield somewhere where we can tell the Sellafield Story, something we are very keen to do. “We are continuing our conversations with Copeland Borough Council, getting into the detail of it, and not hearing any ‘show-stoppers’ – so that’s positive.”

In the foreseeable future what else can we expect which might have a beneficial impact on both community and the Sellafield site? What about NuGen and the new nuclear reactor in Copeland?

“That’s important, NuGen are looking at the land now (Moorside), starting to move on.

“We should know where government lies on re-use of plutonium stockpiles (mainly at Sellafield), maybe resulting in Mox 2 or a Prism reactor – loads of jobs there with billions of pounds of potential investment.

“Albion Square development will accommodate up to 1,000 Sellafield staff moving into Whitehaven town centre.

“Here we have a challenge and an opportunity.

“Challenge: It doesn’t make a lot of sense in modern times to have lots of support staff on a licensed nuclear site as well as the security concern.

“Opportunity: To lever the workforce into the community as far as we possibly can.

“This in itself poses challenges in things like congestion and parking.

“ However, having hundreds more people in Whitehaven shopping, buying their lunches, maybe having a pint after work can only be good for the town.

“It’s like a win double. What we don’t want though is people and businesses by-passing their own local communities as they go back and forward.

“We want them to stop in the local villages to spend their money as well.”

How about possible movement of staff to help revitalise other Copeland towns?

“Well, if the facilities are there then that’s fantastic. Likewise if there are opportunities to build those facilities there.

“I don’t know what the plan, the strategy is, but it sounds to me like a good idea. We grade the staff in three main areas – operational have to be on the site, then close support staff who have to be able to get to the site quite quickly, but they don’t necessarily have to be in Sellafield as long as they are close around the site.

“Then we have other support workers who can be a little bit further out. More of that please, I think.”

What’s the status of the Sellafield Transport Plan which could bring “significant investment” into road and rail” services making it easier for workers to get to site and also held reduce traffic congestion?

“It is part of the overall drive to reduce the number of cars coming on to site as far as we possibly can.

“It has to be carefully co-ordinated – there is no point investing in a rail line if they haven’t got car parks at train stations. Same for buses, for cycle paths or anything else you might want to throw into that mix.

“We have to move it forward carefully, step by step, we’re making progress. Slow but necessary.

“For us it’s not just about where people are but how do we get them backwards and forwards.”

Sellafield’s statement that as many as possible as the 500 new jobs would go to locals has been warmly welcomed by the community. Copeland council leader Elaine Woodburn says the community will be watching to make sure the company lives up to the promise.

Rory says: “Yes, we certainly do welcome the over-sight. It’s important.

“Having recently moved to West Cumbria I know what an important employer Sellafield is for the area.

“We recently did some analysis which showed that over 75 per cent of the people who work at Sellafield live in Copeland, more than 20 per cent in Allerdale, two or three per cent more elsewhere in Cumbria and only three per cent from outside the county.

“And they may not all start as locals but they all end up as locals!”

But there are still reservations that not enough nuclear money is spent with local companies.

Rory says: “Some 20 per cent plus of the business is local now, not bad but it’s still not good enough in my view.

“What we do have are targets coming out from government on things like the level of out expenditure which goes to SMEs (small & medium size enterprises), something we are very excited about. It gives us the opportunity to lever that spend locally. We are doing what we can to smooth the path for them.

“Morgan Sindall are very welcome to the nuclear family. In all the major framework competitions going for work on the site, partnering with local business and understanding socio-economic requirements and commitments is an important part of being part of the nuclear family. It will lead to success.”

Rory is optimistic about the next 12 months.

He says: “BEC have some exciting projects coming to fruition, in September the Construction Skills Centre will start to see students coming in, we should know where we are on NuGen by then, also plutonium re-use, and understand what it all starts to look like for Cumbria and particularly West Cumbria.”


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